But, when it’s Prince Philip doing the cancelling, the Brits go into a minor panic.
This is what happened this week when it was announced that Philip—who turns 95 on June 10—was not, after all, going to travel to the Orkney Islands (220 miles due north from their country retreat of Balmoral where he and the Queen spent last weekend) to attend a memorial service for the Battle of Jutland.
The exact reason for his non-appearance was not given, but it was specified that the decision not to go on the arduous trip was being taken on doctor’s orders.
However, in what could be construed as an attempt to have one’s cake and eat it, palace staff were furiously briefing that there was no cause for alarm, that Philip was not attending hospital and that he would be fulfilling his other commitments scheduled this week.
On Wednesday, the Royal family even went to the extent of tweeting out a photograph of the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen greeting Joachim Gauck, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, at Buckingham Palace. Philip will now be the centre of attention (for all the wrong reasons) when he takes the salute at Sounding Retreat on the second day of the Horse Guards Parade in London on Thursday.
Indeed, as Philip boarded a private flight back to London with the Queen (and two corgis) from Aberdeen on Tuesday after a long weekend at Balmoral, there was nothing in his bearing to cause suspicion that he was suffering from anything other than a ‘minor ailment’, as the royals have insisted.
But, at the same time, anxieties about Philip’s health have been a niggling worry ever since he was admitted to hospital in an emergency heart operation in which he had a stent fitted over Christmas in 2011. The diamond jubilee celebrations in 2012 were overshadowed by Philip’s health when he was admitted to hospital, after spending several hours on a barge on the windswept river Thames on an unseasonably cold day. Then in 2014 he had unspecified ‘exploratory’ abdominal surgery.
Whilst it may be a regrettable but inevitable truth that one day, possibly quite soon, Philip will die, this central fact is the subject of a curious dance of evasion by the royals. It’s an oddly un-Royal attitude, because usually the monarchy is a ruthlessly practical when it comes to matters as simple and straightforward as life and death. Indeed, the Queen awarded a senior honor to her private secretary for his able planning of the ‘transition’ to the rule of King Charles.
Like many of us, perhaps, the Queen can coolly contemplate her own demise—but that of her beloved is an unthinkable event.
There is in fact a tremendous nervousness at every level of the house of Windsor about Philip’s death.
It is a cause of much greater concern than the Queen’s, ironically enough.
The worries, like so much in the modern monarchy, go back to Victoria. After the death of her beloved Albert, she became a virtual recluse, retreating to Balmoral where she lived a life of austerity and contemplation, and was widely suspected of having had an affair with her gamekeeper, John Brown.
She became wildly unpopular with her people as a result of her seclusion.
There is a niggling suspicion among many of the Queen’s advisers that Elizabeth may follow the same course. She is already spending more time at Balmoral, and senior courtiers believe she may well move there on an almost full-time basis if and when Philip dies. While she will not abdicate, she will, it is expected, leave many of tasks involved in running of the country to Charles on Philip’s death.
The author Christopher Andersen, whose book Game of Crowns claimed that Camilla tried to break up Will and Kate, raised this very issue in his new book, and told the Daily Beast: “She’s let it be known to palace insiders that on the death of her husband, who’s turning 95 in June, her plan is to basically retreat to Balmoral on a full-time basis.”
That unwelcome and uncertain future explains this week’s panic, and the relief that Philip appears to be very much back on his feet.
Long live not just the Queen, but, for the good of the nation, her consort too.